I recently asked a number of (smart, godly, seminary-trained) friends, “Who was right, Paul or Barnabus?”
The answers were all over the board. You know the story–it’s in the last few verses of Acts 15. Paul says, “Let’s go see the believers in the cities we’ve been to and see how they are doing.” Barnabus says, “Great idea! We need to bring Mark.” Paul says, “There is no way we are bringing Mark on this trip–he has a poor track record and can’t be counted on.” So Barnabus wants to take Mark and Paul doesn’t want to take Mark. Each is convinced he is right and they end up sharply disagreeing and having to take two different paths. Paul and Silas will go on the 2nd missionary journey, while Barnabus takes Mark and heads to Cypress.
So who was right?
I received some pretty interesting answers to this question, answers that can roughly be listed out as: 1) I have no idea; 2) Paul–he was an apostle, a Scripture writer, and Acts says the churches commended him; 3) Not 100% sure, but I’d tend to side with Barnabus in giving someone another chance; 4) Possibly both; leaning towards Paul; 5) There was probably sin on both sides since there ought to be a better way to deal with disagreements than to separate, but God used it for good; 6) It was a Spirit-directed disagreement that God used to further the work; 7) They were both right–each man did what he was supposed to do.
If you take the time to dig into this thoughtfully, the whole story opens up in an incredible way. For one thing, you start to realize how much of the NT (Mark’s Gospel, Luke’s Gospel, and various epistles, including 1 and 2 Timothy) just might have hinged on things going exactly as they did. And taking the time to try to understand and learn from this episode in Paul’s life may help us when we are led to pursue a different path than another godly Christian friend.
So I sat down and had a brief and very helpful discussion with my own brother, Stephen, who gave answer 7 above. Like Luke, he loves and studies both theology and medicine. Talking this through with him was a big help to me and opened my eyes to new potential dimensions in this discussion.
*Sorry about the audio quality. You’ll probably achieve best results using headphones.